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Loudoun's Early Beginnings

Tracking the history and events that led to the founding of Loudoun County.

Long before Loudoun became a county, the Virginia colony was one of the few colonies to remain loyal to King Charles II, the new English sovereign. In September 1649, while still in exile in France, Charles II granted the entire northern region of Virginia to seven men who had remained loyal to his father, Charles I. The grant, which became known as Virginia's Northern Neck Proprietary and consisted of almost 5 million acres, was eventually split to create four different counties: Fairfax, Prince William, Westmoreland and Stafford.

Less than 10 years later, Fairfax County was split to create a new county. At the time Fairfax was divided along the Cameron-Truro line, running south from the Potomac up Difficult Run, then southwest to the mouth of Rocky Run on Bull Run.

The new county was named Loudoun, after John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun, a Scottish nobleman who had served as commander in chief of the British armed forces and at the time was titular governor of Virginia.

The path to establishing Loudoun County in 1757 was long, peppered with wars, changes in monarchies and land acquisition, many of which are still evident in the county today.

<sh>American Indian Contributions

<bt>Thousands of years ago, American Indians traveled the lands where Loudoun County now stands, following the animals that roamed the valley and provided food for the tribes. In his book, "Historian's Guide to Loudoun County, Virginia: Volume 1, Colonial Laws of Virginia and County Court Orders, 1757-1766" John T. Phillips wrote about how the American Indians followed the Potomac River valley east of the mountains, eventually settling on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, where they named the Potomac River Cohongaroton, or Goose River, after the birds that migrated there.

"Small nomadic Sioux-language tribes roamed Virginia's upper piedmont, including Loudoun, in the centuries preceding the arrival of Europeans, following the herds that amply sustained them," Phillips wrote.

In the 1600s the Sioux were driven out of the area by the Iroquois, who claimed the Virginia piedmont as theirs exclusively. In his book, Phillips wrote that northern American Indians traveled hundreds of miles to visit the Loudoun hunting grounds and trade with the Virginia Indians.

"In the process, well-worn foot paths through the forests were established following the line of the lowest fords, along the base of the broken hills, down the Shenandoah valley, and through the mountain gaps," he wrote. "The first white explorers who recorded their journeys into the Blue Ridge usually referred to existing pathways as 'Indian thoroughfares.'"

As the years passed, the colonists took the American Indian land routes as their own, tracing the path through the Blue Ridge, which they called the Carolina Road, roughly along Loudoun's modern day Route 15. The trail down the state's Northern Neck, which connected the first inland tributaries of the Potomac, became known as Ridge Road or Potomac Path. Today Loudoun drivers know the path as Route 7.

<sh>European Influence

While some Europeans explored the Potomac River and the area surrounding it in the 1500s, the first extended European contact with the area was when Capt. John Smith mapped out and explored the Potomac River in 1608. In the years that followed several captains from the Virginia colony, including John Utey and William Claiborne, expanded the trade with the American Indians living in the region. Beginning in 1634, and continuing for the next 30 years, the Maryland capital port of St. Mary's allowed the Maryland colonists to control a majority of the trade on the northern shores of the Potomac, while Virginia colonists settled the areas northwest of the river's lower peninsula.

Soon after Charles II's grant of the Northern Neck Proprietary, the king was removed from power and the monarchy demolished, but the Virginia colonists remained loyal to the dethroned king. When Charles II was restored to power in 1660, he rewarded the colony by giving it the status of Commonwealth, a designation it still holds today.

"Under the terms of the Restoration, most of the Cavalier families had been disenfranchised of their English holdings," Phillips wrote. "The entire Northern Neck was revitalized as increasing numbers of martially-capable Cavaliers settled in the Proprietary and delighted in finding themselves in exile amongst friends."

As Virginia, along with North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina and Pennsylvania were considered British colonies following the restoration of Charles II, the level of expansion in Virginia's northwestern area, including current Loudoun, slowed. In addition, there were conflicting claims over ownership of the Proprietary the king had created in 1649.

"By the 1680s, the Northern Neck Proprietary was consolidated in the family of Lord John Culpeper," Phillips wrote. "As a precondition to a 1688 grant, the Culpepers abandoned all claims to land that had been patented under Virginia's headrights, and agreed to maintain the political organization of the Northern Neck under the Virginia county system."

In 1689, Lady Catherine Culpeper Fairfax inherited all but one of the pieces of the Proprietary.

<sh>Land Division

<bt>Lady Catherine Culpeper Fairfax died in 1719, passing all possession of the Proprietary to Thomas, the Sixth Lord Fairfax.

Immediately after receiving the land, Lord Fairfax began to grant pieces of the Proprietary to colonists, effectively removing all the American Indians from the portion of the Northern Neck east of the Blue Ridge.

During the 1720s the first settlements began to appear in the area that became Loudoun County, including the Noland family in Broad Run, the Lees around Goose Creek and the McCarty family at Sugarland.

In his book, "Loudoun Discovered: Communities, Corners & Crossroads" Volume One, Eugene Scheel traces the origins of many of the modern areas of Loudoun.

"Captain [Daniel] McCarty received the grant on Feb. 2, 1709," Scheel wrote. "Sugar Land Island was then called McCarty's Island for many years, and in the late 19th century the island began to be known by its present name, Lowe's Island, for owner John H. Lowe."

Scheel wrote about the large land acquisition by the Lee family, approximately 10,000 acres, that was passed down from generation to generation to create what is known today as Ashburn.

"The lands at the mouth of Broad Run were first owned by Thomas Lee, for whom Leesburg was named, and Robert Carter Jr., both speculators," Scheel wrote.

Acting as Charles II's land agent, Robert Carter acquired substantial acreage for his family, totaling almost 300,000 acres before his death in 1732.

It is rumored that the county was named after Lord Loudoun to avoid choosing between the Lee and Carter families, the areas largest landowners.

<sh>A County's Creation

<bt>The Northern Neck land office, which had been closed following the death of land agent Robert Carter in 1732, was reopened in Northern Virginia in 1739, prompting a wave of patents for the last large areas of land in Loudoun.

Fairfax County was formed out of northern Prince William County in 1742. The new county included all land east of the Blue Ridge and north of the Occoquan and Bull Run.

In 1742, Fairfax County established its courthouse in Springfield, far away from what would become Loudoun County.

"During its first decade, until May of 1752, the Fairfax County seat was at colonial 'Springfield,' on the Potomac Path-Freedom Hill at modern Tyson's Corner," Phillips wrote. "This original location was suspiciously convenient to the growing areas of new settlement all along Goose and Kitoctin Creeks …."

Relocation of the courthouse to Alexandria caused residents of what is now Loudoun County to petition for the creation of a new county as had been anticipated, Phillips wrote. The General Assembly passed a bill to divide Fairfax County in the spring of 1755, but instability caused by the French War caused the division to be delayed.

In 1757, petitions from the inhabitants of the back area of Fairfax were brought before the General Assembly, who enacted the law establishing Loudoun County that June.

"For 50 years the General Assembly had followed a general rule that new counties had to have at least 800 tithables and, by the end of 1756, Loudoun contained in excess of 1,050 resident tithables, with a population of perhaps 3,330," Phillips wrote. "The inconvenience of Fairfax's Alexandria courthouse and population growth on the piedmont were probably only two of three factors that contributed to the success of the Loudoun petitions."

Information for this history was gathered from "Loudoun Discovered: Communities, Corners & Crossroads" Volume One by Eugene Scheel and "Historian's Guide to Loudoun County, Virginia: Volume 1, Colonial Laws of Virginia and County Court Orders, 1757-1766" by John T. Phillips.